'Baby' delivers the Celtics late
ORLANDO, Fla. - The Celtics set up nearly every option possible in a half-court set on their final possession against the Orlando Magic last night. And with four guards - Ray Allen, Eddie House, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo - eager to take the deciding shot, the ball ended up with Glen Davis, who lofted a 21-foot jumper just before the buzzer to give the Celtics a 95-94 win.
The result evened the second-round playoff series at two games apiece going into tomorrow's Game 5 at the Garden.
"It would have been a long, long flight home if that shot didn't go in," House said. "That's the thing about this team, guys do trust one another out on the court to make the right play. And if you do make the right play, a lot of times good things happen.
"Three-game series, first one to win two. We've got the home-court advantage back and now we need to go to Boston and get a win."
Allen and Pierce were the first options as the Celtics regained possession with 11.3 seconds remaining. With Allen unable to get open, Davis went out to set a pick for Pierce, then rolled to the open spot, in front of the Magic bench.
"The play worked to perfection," Pierce said. "Once I saw [Dwight] Howard step up, it was a no-brainer for me to find Big Baby. I just trusted a teammate, he was wide open for a shot and he had just hit the shot before that, and he stepped up big. It was a great game to be part of."
Pierce might have forced the shot himself, but he has observed the maturation of Davis, who earned the "Big Baby" nickname growing up in Baton Rouge, La.
"He's done it before down here, same exact spot," Pierce said. "I just trust my teammates. Baby plays with tremendous confidence and he's shown the ability to be poised down the stretch. I saw [the shot] and I immediately thought it was good. In the playoffs, it's a little bit different than the regular season, but he's shown he can get it done.
"[Davis] was outstanding. We're asking him to do a lot, a guy in his second year, to guard the two best players out there. He's been tremendous for us in the second half of the season. With Kevin [Garnett] being out and Leon [Powe] being out, he's grown into a man in these playoffs."
Davis had converted in crunch time from a similar position in the Celtics' 90-80 win over Orlando Jan. 22.
"It felt like deja vu, but the difference was I hit it to win the game," Davis said. "I always envision making the game-winning shot. You've always got to see it, and if you see it you'll believe it. I shoot millions of shots like that all the time. If you believe you can make it you make it."
Davis was the only Celtic to convert from the field in the final 7:22 of play. Go-to guys Allen and Pierce misfired on four shots, but the defense put the team in a position to salvage the win.
Davis's free throw gave the Celtics a 90-84 lead with 6:27 to play. Anthony Johnson then missed two free throws, but Howard controlled the rebound and Rashard Lewis cut the Orlando deficit to 4 points with 4:51 remaining. Celtic center Kendrick Perkins departed after sustaining a left shoulder strain on the play.
Pierce missed a jumper and Courtney Lee pulled the Magic within 90-88 with 4:04 remaining. Rondo's free throw was followed by a failed Pierce drive and a Lee jumper, bringing the Magic within 91-90 with 3:32 remaining. The Celtics stopped Howard out of a timeout, but Allen missed a three. Lee then airballed a shot, and Pierce failed on a drive. Hedo Turkoglu was off on a trey but the rebound went out of bounds off Rondo. Howard then made two free throws out of a timeout.
Then it was Big Baby Time.
Davis restored the Celtic lead, 93-92, with a jumper with 32.5 seconds remaining. Turkoglu missed from the perimeter, but Mickael Pietrus rebounded and Orlando called time with 16.7 seconds left. Two Lewis free throws restored Orlando's 1-point edge with 11.3 seconds on the clock.
The Celtics hoped to shoot with four seconds remaining, but the clock wound down as Pierce was trapped. Pierce then went to Davis, who immediately fired away, just over Lewis's attempt at a block.
The Celtics set the tone by increasing their defensive pressure in the early going.
The Magic shot 37.8 percent in the opening half. The Celtics went on a 10-4 run over the final 3:43 of the first half to take a 48-46 lead, Pierce scoring 18 points in the opening half.
The Celtics slowed things down early in the second half, isolating Pierce on Turkoglu. The tactic paid off as the captain found a groove, but Pierce then got into foul trouble.
After Lee's foul shot made the score 71-69 with 1:54 left in the quarter, the Celtics scored 6 successive points. A Rondo drive, followed by free throws by Davis and Perkins, restored the Celtics' 8-point edge.
Pierce committed his fifth foul with 8:58 remaining in the game, the Magic pulling within 3 five seconds later. Allen's jumper at the shot-clock buzzer restored a 5-point edge, then a Rondo drive gave the Celtics an 89-82 advantage.
"This is great," Pierce said. "It was a roller coaster last year and we want to take the ride again. There's been so many great games in Orlando and Chicago [in the first round]. This is playoff basketball and I'm glad to be a part of it.
"We know what we have as a team and we believe in each other. We know that we're still the champs and, regardless of who we put out there on the court, we're going to be a tough team to beat. There's no words to describe our resiliency. Everybody saw it last year, [now] even with Kevin out. The intensity, toughness, resiliency, that's our team makeup."